“In Training” with Virgin Atlantic

Okay, we’ve all heard about the airlines’ flight attendant training — the safety drills, the makeup classes, the emergency slide. Especially the slide.

Well, you don’t have to be crew to try it all, though you do need a company willing to rent Virgin Atlantic’s training base in London.

Or, in my case, it helped to simply be invited while on a media trip to learn about some behind-the-scenes insider scoop on air travel.

Styling school at the Virgin Atlantic Training Base in London where not only the airline's flight crew get trained but other airlines and outside corporations can rent the facility and attend classes ranging from styling through safety and technical engineering. Here a guest is introduced to hair and makeup. Photo by Yvette Cardozo

Styling school at the Virgin Atlantic Training Base in London where not only the airline’s flight crew get trained but other airlines and outside corporations can rent the facility and attend classes ranging from styling through safety and technical engineering. Here Terry is introduced to hair and makeup. Photo by Yvette Cardozo

There were three of us that day, myself, along with friends Terry and Kari, and we started with styling (no, they don’t call it a makeup class).

We learned that Virgin Atlantic’s women all wear red lipstick Thankfully, the red you wind up with will be matched to your skin tone so you don’t look like the undead.

Uniforms are custom made using one of those machines that measure your every dimple and bulge.

Virgin America Training Base in London where not only the airline's flight crew get trained but other airlines and outside corporations can rent the facility and attend classes ranging from styling through safety and technical engineering. Here, three guests graduate from styling class. They got to keep the scarves. Photo by Yvette Cardozo

Here, we graduate from styling class. And we got to keep the scarves. Photo by Yvette Cardozo

Hair needs to be a certain length. Men can have that ‘rough and ready,’ 5’oclock shadow look but there’s a specification (actually a special setting on razors) for how long the whiskers should be.

On, then, to the safety class where we learned that brace position everyone hears about: Hands are clasped, not around your ankles but on the back of your head, with your body folded and leaning into the seat in front of you.

Leading to the question I’ve always had: won’t that snap your neck in a crash?

“Actually, on impact, everything is moving together,” said  Matt Whipp, training manager for cabin safety. “So your head AND the seat in front will be moving at the same speed in the same direction.”

In training, crew learn two behaviors, service and safety. Service is all please and thank you. Safety involves a LOT of yelling.

“It helps to give people something to do and keep them focused,” Whipp said.

We were in seats of a mock airplane. Suddenly there was an announcement that “something” was wrong and the place filled with smoke — enough so we could hardly see Whipp standing there just feet in front of us.

But we could certainly hear him: “HEADS DOWN! FEET BACK!”  And five seconds later, “HEADS DOWN! FEET BACK!”

And again, and again and again. Probably a dozen times.

Then, as we had been instructed, one of us leaped up, opened the cabin door, jumped out and, after checking to make sure the rest of the crew could get out (or carrying them if they couldn’t) we followed.

The jump was only a foot, but standing nearby was the slide. THE SLIDE. The one everyone wonders about. What would it be like to leave a plane that way?

Safety school at the Virgin America Training Base in London where not only the airline's flight crew get trained but other airlines and outside corporations can rent the facility and attend classes ranging from styling through safety and technical engineering. Here, the group celebrates a successful trip down the slide, which is nearly two stories tall. Photo by Yvette Cardozo

Time to celebrate our successful trip down the slide, which is nearly two stories tall and looks a LOT taller from the top. Photo by Yvette Cardozo

It’s about two stories tall. Think waterslide but without the pond at the bottom. It’s kind of intimidating when  you’re at the top, shoving off.

Kari hit the bottom and gracefully ran. Terry did a wonderful faceplant (into a thick mat) and I bounced at the bottom, stopped dead and casually strolled off.

Who rents The Base? Other airlines, non airline companies who want to hold team building exercises, companies whose employees do a lot of flying. And what they rent includes virtually anything — styling class, aircraft shell, the slide, life rafts, engineering technical training.

  • For information on renting The Base, Virgin Atlantic’s training facility.
  • YouTube link to Training at The Base by Terry Gardner, Part 1 (Styling and safety)
  • YouTube link to Training at The Base by Terry Gardner, Part 2 (This is mostly our experience with an “emergency” aboard the mock airplane at The Base. Plus us going down the slide.
  • YouTube link to Training at the Base by Terry Gardner, Part 3 (More inside the mock airplane with our “emergency”)

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